Somali Fishermen Struggle to Compete with Foreign Fishing Boats

21 May, 2018

Each morning, fishermen in the Somali port of Bosaso pull in their catch of tuna, marlin, and other fish.

The waters off northern Somalia are some of the richest in Africa. As businesspeople negotiate at the port over the price of fish, the daily catch looks plentiful.

But all is not well for the local fishermen. Many are unhappy about larger, foreign boats that enter Somali waters. The locals say they are losing out to the foreign fishers.

"Now there is illegal fishing, fish stealing, and so on," explains boat captain Mohammed Elias Abdiqadir. He told VOA that some of the foreign fishing boats come from Iran.

"We don't have a powerful government who can stop these illegal fishermen who are creating problems," said Abdiqadir.

Foreign boats in Somali waters have been a problem for years, he added. Some of them operate without the government's permission. Others buy permits from Somali officials, at times under questionable conditions.

From protectors to pirates

Ten years ago, Somali fishermen took up arms against foreign boats. The fishermen hoped to retake their waters from the outsiders. But some of the Somalis then became pirates. They attacked and hijacked oil transport and other commercial ships off the Horn of Africa.

At one point, Somali pirates were seizing more than 40 ships a year and holding hundreds of sailors as hostages.

An international naval effort has mostly stopped the threat from pirates. Somalia has started to build small local navies, including the Puntland Maritime Police Force, which guards the waters off Bosaso.

But neither has been able to clear the area of foreign fishing boats.

Abdiqadir says one problem is that the foreign boats are larger and have better technology than the Somali boats, which are mostly small and made from fiberglass.

"They fish in the deep ocean, and they have long nets and better tools than us," he said.

Somalia's fledgling fish industry

But the problems for Somalia's fishing industry do not only lie off the coast.

Bosaso's port needs more modern equipment to prepare fish in a clean, healthy environment to export. And there is yet to be a strong, dependable system for exporting Somali fish overseas.

A new program by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization may prove helpful to Somalia's fishing industry.

Tuna is laid out for sale in Bossaso, northern Somalia in late March 2018. (J. Patinkin/VOA)
Tuna is laid out for sale in Bossaso, northern Somalia in late March 2018. (J. Patinkin/VOA)

Just outside Bosaso, women have been trained to process fish meat into a dried fish product to be sold in inland Somalia.

The women work on clean tables, where they cut fresh fish into pieces and let them dry.

The bright sun naturally cures and purifies the meat.

Local young people catch the fish. The FAO trained them in deep-sea fishing. The organization provided them with larger, better-equipped boats that can reach the most profitable sea creatures.

The women are paid with money and fresh fish each day to feed their families.

"This job works for me fine because my home is here," explains Daawo Sheikh Mahamoud, who recently started working at the fish processing station. In the past, she said, her children were cared for by neighbors while she worked. But now, she said, "I can take care of them while doing the work in the morning."

Australian Michael Savins, a fisheries and boatbuilding expert, designed the program. He says it employs more than 100 people, including fishermen at sea and processors on land. He hopes that number will increase to 500 by the end of this year.

The idea, he explains, is to employ local Somalis, and eventually start selling Somali fish internationally.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Jason Patinkin wrote this story for VOA News. George Grow adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

captain – n. someone who leads or supervises

commercial – adj. related to skills or subjects used in business

fiberglass – n. a light and strong structural material

net – n. a device for catching fish, birds or other things

eventually – adv. at some later time: in the end

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